A boy asked for a basketball game of one on one and Stanley Johnson accepted the challenge.

One dunk, two dunks, three dunks …

"That's not fair. Take it easy on me." the boy said. But Johnson wasn't going to let up.

After five dunks, the game was quickly over. Never mind that Johnson's opponent was 11 and not half his size. The All-American from Santa Ana Mater Dei High was sharing a lesson he learned from his mother.

Johnson's competitive spirit and drive to excel have propelled him to one of the greatest careers enjoyed by a Southland high school basketball player. To learn where that passion comes from, look no further than the imposing 6-foot-2 woman who taught him the game's fundamentals while raising him on tough love.

"He loved the basketball from the time I put it in his hand," said Johnson's mother, Karen Taylor.

He didn't always love her lessons, though.

"I never let him win," Taylor said. "I'd kick, push, punch. He'd cry. I'd say, 'I don't want no girl. Stop crying. Go sit down. Go sit in the corner.' "

When Johnson was 7, he says he was overweight and had asthma, yet his mom made him run "suicides" — a demanding stop-and-start sprint drill.

"I would say, 'I want to stop,' " Johnson said. His mom's reply: "No, you can't stop if you want to be good."

"It was always important to do things the right way and work hard," Johnson said. "When I got older, it was the only thing I knew. I was a creature of habit."

And now he's a three-time state champion, with Mater Dei 32-0 and marching toward what could be a fourth consecutive state title. The championship game is March 29 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.

"This is what I signed up for," Johnson said. "I've never been a person who played for player of the year. I've played for wins."

Johnson, 17, has been a starter for the Monarchs all four seasons, and his responsibilities have been ever changing.

This season, he was asked to play point guard, a position he wasn't familiar with and probably won't play again. He responded by doing whatever it took to help his team win, directing the offense, distributing the ball to teammates and, when necessary, overwhelming opponents with his talent while averaging 25 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

Quick at 6-7 and powerfully explosive at 225 pounds, Johnson creates what coaches say is a "matchup nightmare." Big enough to be a forward or center, he is agile enough to handle the ball against shorter, nimble guards.

Bellflower St. John Bosco thought it had neutralized Johnson on offense, opening a seven-point halftime lead during a January game against the Monarchs. Mater Dei rallied to win, 71-62, when Johnson found another way to contribute.

"He didn't score on the offensive end, so he decided to play the passing game and he had five steals in the second half and it led to 13 points," St. John Bosco Coach Derrick Taylor said. "He always seems to make the right decision at the right time and finds a way to win.

"I think he's an all-time great. I've coached against Kevin Durant, Ty Lawson, John Wall, Nick Young, Arron Afflalo," Taylor said, ticking off players from the NBA, "and there's only two players that made me feel completely helpless regarding a game plan, and that was Kyrie Irving and Stanley Johnson."

Taylor isn't alone. Orange Lutheran defeated Mater Dei during Johnson's freshman season when he missed some free throws. It was Mater Dei's only loss in a Trinity League game during Johnson's high school career. And over the next three seasons, Johnson made Orange Lutheran pay dearly for the accomplishment.